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Car History

History of Fiat-based Lada

Pre-Production History

Most people know about the Soviet Union’s deal with Fiat, but not much about what actually led to it. Believe it or not, the NAMI (Central Scientific Research Automobile and Automotive Engines Institute) were mostly in favor of a FWD car- Renault 16, but the rest didn’t like it and it wasn’t chosen. The chief engineer considered that the Fiat 125 would be a better choice than the 124. The 125 is a class higher and would’ve probably sold better outside the USSR, but it was based on an old model - the Fiat 1300/1500 from 1961. As such it utilized a leaf spring rear axle and was generally outdated(unlike the 124 which had a 3-link rear axle and was an almost all-new model).

Differences between Fiat 124 (top) and Fiat 125(bottom). 125 wheelbase - 2505, 124 wheelbase - 2420 mm. Also, on Fiat 125 rear suspension is leaf spring, in 124 it's coil
Differences between Fiat 124 (top) and Fiat 125(bottom). 125 wheelbase - 2505, 124 wheelbase - 2420 mm. Also, on Fiat 125 rear suspension is leaf spring, in 124 it's coil
Lada - History of Fiat-based Lada - Car History

The biggest problem of the Fiat deal as a whole was the engine. The Russians didn’t want the old OHV 124 engine. Fiat didn’t hide anything and even offered to send the tooling for the new TwinCam engines once their development finished. They even gave VAZ the documentation of the 1500cc engine with the intention of making the 2103. To justify their position, NAMI tested Moskvich 408, Ford Taunus 12M, Morris 1100, Peugeot 204, Renault R16, Skoda MB1000 and a ZAZ(seems like R16 won, but I don’t know russian that well, it’s said to be better, but I don’t know if comfort-wise or durability-wise). A big role in the final choice played the fact that at the time, Italy was led by a communist-friendly government. The Minister of Automotive Industry of the USSR at the time, Aleksandr Tarasov said “Italians are closer to us than French” and on top of that, the general director of “AVTOVAZ” Anatoly Aleksandrovich Zhitkov concluded that compared to Fiat, Renault and Peugeot’s tech wasn’t made for high-volume production and would require significant changes.

Tests

Automotive designer Dante Jakoz remember “The tests of the 124 conducted in Russia proved to be very useful for adapting a car for the needs of this vast country. Tests held at a special test site near Moscow on a huge piece of land were incredibly tough. First examples, received in July 1966 crumbled on the roads of the Dmitrovsky testing range after just 5000km. The Italian delegation rushed in panic. A week later, Taranenko was called in the Ministry: «You have two weeks to put together a documentation on the tests to send to the Italians»”.

Modified Fiats went around NAMI's polygon from 17 November to 10 December 1966 covering 12 000 km (8 000 - light cobble, 2 000 - heavy and 2 000 more - unpaved roads)
Modified Fiats went around NAMI's polygon from 17 November to 10 December 1966 covering 12 000 km (8 000 - light cobble, 2 000 - heavy and 2 000 more - unpaved roads)

Modified cars(numbered 7, 8 and 9) arrived in USSR in November of 1966. They had a substantially reinforced chassis. After 12 000 km road testing, #7 and #8 had 5 cracks each, versus 17 in #5 and 24 in #4(#6 and #9 were sent for lab testing). Some of the cracks were 150mm long where the roof joins the pillars, which caused the pillar to come off. The Russians also changed the construction of the rear axle(the original one broke the diffcase and had cracks on the control arm mountings).

On 13 000km Fiat #8's front right lower wishbone failed
On 13 000km Fiat #8's front right lower wishbone failed

And still, it wasn’t ready. Front suspension’s rubber bushings were failing constantly and the rear brakes proved to be another problem in negotiation. Brake pads were lasting for 400-800km and when the polygon was covered in salt and sand it got into the brake mechanisms. The Italians were really proud of the rear disc brakes on the 124, and as such stubbornly refused to change them for drums, but in the end they gave in.

Engine and gearbox

The engine of the Lada is not a Fiat engine.
The Russians deemed the Fiat 124-series OHV engine too old and without much room for improvement. So they increased the cylinder spacing to 95mm, changed the bore and stroke from 73x71,5 to 76x66, maintaining the 1.2 liter displacement and made a new SOHC head.
The Italians liked the changes so much that it influenced some of their later designs. The gearbox was also changed - bigger clutch, stronger synchros, gears from Fiat 124 Sport, modified driveshaft.

The engine had a lot of unrealized potential and just a simple tune-up raised the power to nearly 100hp(low compression, bad carburettor and so on)

Modernization

Car #2 isn’t the Wagon version of the 2101, but rather the 2103.
It was made in 1967. One year later the 124S came out, looking a lot like the 2103 - four headlamps, similar door handles and bumpers. While the negotiation was going, the modifications of car #1(2101) were also made to #2. The Russians decided to make the engines so they qualify for rally classes 1300 and 1600. The 1200 engine was changed from 76mm bore to 79mm which made it 1293cc and the 1451cc they made a 1568cc.
This laid the foundations for the 21011 and 2106 models.

Fiat offered a wagon on the basis of Car #2, but the Russians weren't interested.
Fiat offered a wagon on the basis of Car #2, but the Russians weren't interested.
1974 - First facelift (21011) and two rejected proposals (gallery)
1974 - First facelift (21011) and two rejected proposals (gallery)

Production of 2103 started Q4 1972. Interestingly, 2101 and 2103 both passed their road tests… after going in production.

VAZ-2106 was called 21031, like 2101-21011. Design was developed from 1974. But it was renamed to 2106. It went in production on 21 February 1976."
VAZ-2106 was called 21031, like 2101-21011. Design was developed from 1974. But it was renamed to 2106. It went in production on 21 February 1976."

First 5 examples of VAZ-2105 were made in 1977. The room where the projects were shown to high authorities, was nicknamed the “Greek Hall”. Everyone heard Raykin: “In the Greek Hall, in the Greek Hall …” Without knowing this, the correspondent described: “We went with Mark Vasilievich in the main hall of the Style Center. As if in a museum of wax figures, full-length plasticine models of future cars were frozen there. “ Demidovtsev told the journalist how difficult it is to change anything in the form of a car in conditions of severe technological limitations and highly specialized equipment: “Let’s say we would like to make the roof line different. It seems a small change, but the line doesn’t allow it. “

Left - Originally, VAZ-2105 was to have 4 headlamps, but the higher-ups were sane enough not to allow it. Middle - Project for deep modernization of VAZ-2101, designed by V.Pashko in 1975 designated VAZ-2101-80. 80- the year the car was to enter production. Right - VAZ-2105, 1980 chief engineer -V.Kvasdov, designer - V.Stepanov
It was a soviet first with halogen headlamps and headlamp jets, interior-controlled mirrors, heated rear glass, belt driven engine and polyurethane seat stuffing

“Secret” modifications

There were a few interesting modifications with a rotary engine on the basis of 2105 and 2107
They can be identified by the 9 at the end of chassis designation:
21019,21059,21079(except 21018)
-21018 - single rotor Wankel VAZ-311, 70hp
-21019 - twin rotor Wankel VAZ-411, 120hp
-21059 - twin rotor Wankel VAZ-4132, 140hp
-21079 - twin rotor Wankel VAZ-413X, 140hp